A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, July 31, 2006

Movie Madness Monday 24: The best years of our lives

Hello, and welcome to Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. Here's how we play: I give you a few of my favorite quotes from a movie. You comment with a quote of your own from the same movie. A quote! Two quotes! We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday, so that everyone gets a chance to play!

Okay? Okay! So here we go:

"Teaching's a way of paying the rent until I finish my novel."
"How long have you been working on it?
"Four and a half years."
"Must be good."

"Grab a brew! Don't cost nothin'!"

"If you want a homecoming parade in my town, you must pay."

"Don't you have any respect for yourself?"
"This is absolutely gross! That boy is a P-I-G --PIG!"

"Can I buy you lunch? Aw, you've already got your lunch. Well, how 'bout some milk, then? You got your milk, too. Well, can I just massage your thighs while you eat?"

"Christ! Seven years of college down the drain!"

"What? Over? Did you say 'Over?' Nothing is over until WE decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!"

"Who dumped a truckload of fizzies into the swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are full of underwear; every spring, the toilets explode."

Have fun, now!

****WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Our homage to ultra highbrow cinema this week is

Ivan Reitman's hazy memories of college transferred to the screen.

I tried to find a picture of John Belushi as Bluto, and was lucky to find this. I never knew the president was such a fan!

Thanks for playing!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Self-Esteem Movement Crosses the Pond

Apparently we Yanks are being blamed for the spread of a movement to teach happiness in British schools:
At a time when Britain's schools face serious difficulties in providing children with a good education, they are to be charged with providing happiness lessons. Recently it was announced that Martin Seligman, a well-known US psychologist, has been invited to train British teachers in the art of making pupils happy. Anti-depression classes will be piloted from September next year. Advocates of happiness education claim that lessons using cognitive behavioural therapy techniques will help children deal with emotional problems and raise self-esteem.

This initiative is the latest technique adopted in a futile attempt to tackle the crisis facing the classroom through the management of children's emotions. Making children feel good about themselves has been one of main objectives of US schools during the past three decades. By the time they are seven or eight years of age, American children have internalised the prevailing psychobabble and can proclaim the importance of avoiding negative emotions and of high self-esteem. Yet this has had no perceptible impact on their school performance.

In Britain too, educators who have drawn the conclusion that it is easier to help children feel good than to teach them maths, reading and science, have embraced the cause of emotional education. During the past decades they have also adopted a variety of gimmicks to improve classroom behaviour through helping children relax. Some schools have opted for yoga, others use aromatherapy or chill-out music to improve concentration and learning. At least these gimmicks are harmless. They are certainly not going to help raise educational standards but there is no reason why they should have a negative impact on the classrooms.

Not so with some of the other more intrusive initiatives which are designed to teach children how to be happy. The elevation of happiness into a classroom subject will consolidate the shift in focus from learning about the world to dwelling on the internal lives of pupil. Even by the confused standards of British educational policy this is an unusually stupid idea. Happiness can not be taught. People have always pursued happiness. But until recently, happiness was not seen as an end in itself or something that could be promoted in its own terms. Teachers hoped that their students would be happy with their experience but they did not set out to teach their pupils how.

Can someone be taught how to be happy? I don't think so. Polite and courteous, absolutely.

We can't make kids learn how to be happy any more than we can give kids self-esteem. Nor is self-esteem the answer to helping increase kids' achievement. Kids know when they're being bamboozled. If everyone gets an award, is the award really meaningful? How well I remember sitting through the year-end awards night as it dragged on for over three hours. 80% of the student body at our middle school received some piece of plastic or wood pressboard or piece of paper, which inevitably filled boxes or shelves in the students' houses. Do students look at this schtuff and think how special it is to have so many awards when every one else has a box or shelf just as packed?

One of my favorite animated movies has a character state: "Saying everyone is special means no one is." I do not use the term "self-esteem" with my students. Why? Because, unfortunately, the "self-esteem" movement has led to the focus on emotion over accomplishment, especially in the crucial adolescent years. For too long, we have forcued on "affective development" over academic achievement as a vital component of the "middle school philosophy." Is it any wonder that now we see the achievement of middle school students spiraling into a gravity well, and we wonder why?

Too often "self-esteem" means "everything I do is good enough." It means "trying hard" should equal an "A." You know, I try hard at tae kwon do class, but that doesn't mean I'll ever be able to kick as high as a 16 year old. I try hard to control my temper, so does that excuse me when I do lose it? I don't think so.

Instead, I talk about promoting "self-respect." Self-respect means being willing to struggle, and being willing to assess oneself honestly. I believe that self-respect is far more honest than self-esteem. Self-esteem is all about excuses. Self-respect is about building character.

I do not think we Americans can be blamed for all of this, however: witness the uproar in France earlier this year over changes in job security for young people. Last year I opened this blog with an article from England about the Professional Association of Teachers debating a motion to remove the word "failure" from the educational lexicon (the motion was defeated). There have been articles about how Chinese society is undergoing a challenge dealing with privileged offspring of one-child families. This is a problem all modern societies face. We all want our children to be happy. But insulating them from any bumps or bruises or struggle doesn't lead to them being any more successful.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Year in the 'Sphere

Today is the one year anniversary of this blog.

This week also marked the 50,000th visitor to this blog since I signed up with Site-meter. Two hundred and fifty-six posts later, and I still haven't shut up.

Who would ever have thought that a blog which started off talking about failure would manage to stumble along for a year?

You have comforted me during a long dark night of the soul, and you have made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. Snorted, even.

This has been such a blessing, carving out my little homestead in the Edusphere. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve grumped and snarked and tossed around movie quotes like there’s no tomorrow. “Oh yeah? What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”

Most of all, you have reminded me of why I am a teacher: I love the flow of ideas, and I have been able through this medium to share ideas with people all over the country, and all over the world. You have helped me think long and hard about what I do and why I do it. And I've gotten to write again.

Thanks for being here, and thanks for reading my faltering words.

Peace. Love. Namaste. God bless.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Horses, books, dreams

"A wild, ringing neigh shrilled up from the hold of the Spanish galleon. It was not the cry of an animal in hunger. It was a terrifying bugle. An alarm call.

"The captain of the Santo Cristo strode the poop deck. 'Cursed be that stallion!' he muttered under his breath as he stamped forward and back, forward and back.

"Suddenly he stopped short. The wind! It was dying with the sun. It was spilling out of the sails, causing them to quiver and shake. He could feel his flesh creep with the sails. Without wind he could not get to Panama. And if he did not get there, and get there soon, he was headed for trouble. The Moor ponies to be delivered to the Viceroy of Peru could not be kept alive much longer. Their hay had grown musty. The water casks were almost empty. And now this sudden calm, this heavy warning of a storm."

When I first read those words, I was in third grade. The story that followed thrilled the horse-crazy little scrawny blonde girl in gold granny bifocals that I was. Oh, how I loved horses! I read everything I could, anyway, but horse books and science fiction- those were my favorites. And Marguerite Henry was partially responsible for igniting that dream of a far off place, and I was entranced by the story of Paul, Maureen, and Grandpa and Grandma Beebe, who were real people.

I remember seeing words I had never seen before: galleon, Moor, Viceroy, cask on the first page alone. The story was so good I had to know what each word meant.

All of these memories came flooding back to me as I read today about the 81st Annual Pony Swim being held in Chincoteague, Virginia as part of the Pony Penning Days. Every year, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department rounds up some of the ponies which run wild on Assateague Island, which is a wildlife refuge split between Maryland and Virginia. The proceeds from the sale of some of the ponies pays for equipment for the fire department.

I learned about the real round-up of horses every July off the coast of Virginia in Misty of Chincoteague and the sequel, Stormy, Misty's Foal, and then all of her other horse books that were in that tiny library, which covered one wall of the school cafeteria. There was Justin Morgan Had a Horse and Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West and even Brighty of the Grand Canyon, which was about a burro, not a horse, but I read it anyway.

The story of those ponies fired my love of reading as well as my love of horses. Of course, I soon exhausted the school library's collection, and those at the local county library, too. We didn't have lots of money, but every now and then, my mom would let me order a book from Scholastic. You remember these, right? Filmy, almost onion-skin paper. Colorful blurbs crammed all over describing different books you could order. On the back page, a narrow column of an order form with all the books and their prices listed. You'd cut it out and bring it to school with your money, and the teacher would place the order. You could buy a book from Scholastic for seventy-five cents back then, and if you ordered three sometimes, you could get another free. It was torture for me. So many books! So little pocket change!

I would save my birthday money to buy a book. My grandmother, who had lived in a nursing home near the Panhandle since before I was born, would send me a dollar for my birthday, pressed inside a small card covered with pastel glitter. I knew that dollar was a sacrifice for her, because she was on Medicaid and had no assets. The only money she got was from making quilts and teaching crafts for the other nursing home residents, whom she called "the old folks." I almost always spent Gramma's dollar on a book. That way I had something to show for the dollar she sent. I started mowing lawns in the neighborhood after fourth grade, and I used that money too. Sometimes my mom would buy me a book from the T. G. & Y dime store, inexpensive bindings of classics like Jane Eyre and Little House on the Prairie.

But I loved the horse books best of all. After I finished up all of the Marguerite Henry books I could find, I moved on to other pastures (sorry). The "Blaze" books by C. W. Anderson. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which made me cry as poor Beauty went through his long line of masters, some good, some bad. I knew what it was like to want someone to love you just for you, and to have chaos swirl through your life for reasons you couldn't understand.

The "Black Stallion" books (all twenty-one of them) by Walter Farley. Smoky, the Cow Horse by Will James. National Velvet, by Enid Bagnold. I saw the movie of that one, too, and when I found out THAT Elizabeth Taylor was the "old" Elizabeth Taylor who played Cleopatra, I couldn't believe it.

I learned about Assateague and India and Arabia and the Grand Canyon. I learned about steeplechasing and thoroughbred racing and the good qualities in a cow pony. I learned about the difference between a quarter horse and a mustang and an Arabian and a Morgan. I dreamt about owning my own horse, even though deep down I knew that the closest I would get to a horse would be when we went riding at a stable with the Camp Fire Girls, or when one of my friends let me tag along and ride at her dad's farm east of town. But words-- words were magic, and carried me wherever I wanted.

I knew the meaning of that old saw, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride." But I always had my books.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Well, in less than a month we'll be back in school, and I have thus far gotten only about half of the things I wanted to get done done, so I thought I'd throw a few larky items your way and waste both your time and mine giving in to my inner goofball. The picture at right gives you an idea of what has been keeping me busy this summer-- my own little apes have been all over me this summer.

Monopoly enters the 21st century: The latest British version of the classic game Monopoly has gotten rid of all the Monopoly money in favor of a debit card. "In the new British version of Monopoly Here & Now, players type amounts into a palm-sized scanner and swipe their debit cards to seal the deal."

You think you've got a bad mother-in-law? This lady sued her former mother-in-law under Britain's Protection from Harassment Act for making her life hell. She was awarded $65,000.

In the "DUH!" category, Peter Cook says he was "stupid" to cheat on Christie Brinkley. How come it took him so long to come to the conclusion the rest of us came to a week ago?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Here's an idea--Survivor: Oklahoma

You know, we Okies are a long-suffering lot. We put up with people thinking we all live in teepees. Or, as my friend just reminded me, people think of the musical rather than the actual place or they've seen the movie and wonder why there aren't mountains near Claremore and I feel like screaming: "Because it was shot in California!" Just like another movie I've been talking about recently-- hint, hint-- which was also set in Oklahoma. Unlike Dances With Wolves which was supposed to be set in Oklahoma but then wasn't because, I guess, Kevin Costner couldn't find enough buffalo or prairie without a dormant oil well on it.

But anyway, everyone thinks we talk like the Joads—or worse, like Reba McIntyre. Now, here comes this: the scary naked guy from the first Survivor is apparently going to be our guest for about 51 months:
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Richard Hatch has been sent to a federal prison in Oklahoma as he serves a 51-month prison sentence for failing to pay taxes on the $1 million he won on the debut season of the reality TV show, "Survivor."

Hatch arrived several days ago at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. It was not immediately clear why Hatch was moved or whether he will serve out his prison sentence at the facility, which is a hub for prisoners transferring through the federal system.

A federal jury convicted Hatch in January of failing to pay taxes on the "Survivor" prize and other income. He was sentenced in May to 51 months in prison by a judge who said the reality TV star had lied repeatedly on the witness stand.

Hatch had previously been held at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts.

But then there’s my favorite part of the story (emphasis mine):
Hatch would prefer to serve his sentence near family in Rhode Island or in Florida, said his lawyer, Michael Minns.

"He should be in a camp," said Hatch's attorney, Michael Minns. "The camps are the most comfortable of the uncomfortable. They are still jails, but they get to see the sky and be outside. It's bad for Richard, who is an outdoor person."

Now, I don’t know whether to be repulsed (well, actually, yes I do) or insulted. I mean really, we provide him with a lovely facility right near Will Rogers Airport, and he wants to be at CAMP??! And do we really want Flabby Naked Guy to be comfortable?

But hey, Richard—this is Oklahoma. We’ve got plenty of “outside.”

Let’s just pray he keeps his clothes on.

****UPDATE: It was announced on August 3 that the Happy State of West Virginia will now have the pleasure of Mr. Naked Guy's company. I dunno-- this may provoke another secession from the State that Seceeded from a Seceeding State during the "War of Northern Aggression," as my pal Trent Lott would say.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: 23 is a prime number

Welcome back for another edition of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia game. Last week we enjoyed a short trip to a galaxy far, far, away, so this week I though we should stay a bit closer to home.

Here's how we play: I post a few quote from an unnamed movie, and you add a quote or two you like from the same movie. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday.

Here we go!

"Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?"
"It belonged to my father, he carried it bravely in the war, and I intend to kill Tom Chaney with it if the law fails to do so."
"Well, this'll sure get the job done if you can find a fence post to rest it on while you take aim."

"How long you boys in Texas been mounted on sheep?"

"Now, I've got business across the river and if you interfere with me you may land up in court which you don't want to be. I've got a good lawyer in J. Noble Daggett."
"Lawyer Daggett again."
"She draws him like a gun."

"Judge Parker. Old carpetbagger, but he knows his rats! We had a good court going on here 'til them pettifogging lawyers moved in!"

"By God, she reminds me of me!"
"Well then, we might not get along."

"You squirrel-headed bastard!"

"Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way."

"A little earlier I gave some thought to stealin' a kiss from you, although you are very young... and you're unattractive to boot. But now I'm of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt. "
"Well, one would be as unpleasant as the other."

****Wednesday Update: Someone kills your father? If you need help, you look for someone with TRUE GRIT!

One of the very best Westerns ever, in my opinion, with the Duke (God bless him!) demonstrating his knack for action and comedy. Look for an incredibly young Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall in supporting roles. Kim Darby played Mattie Ross (and I never realized it, but she'd also played Miri on Star Trek in episode 12, the one where Earth's adults had all been killed off by some deadly virus. She was the one who fell in love with Kirk. I know, I REALLY AM a geek!).

It is the dialogue in this movie that makes it great. It's also one of the few movies the Duke ever did that spawned a sequel, Rooster Cogburn... and the Lady in which Katharine Hepburn also starred. Both films were magic, in my opinion. Those of you who were stumped by this one need to treat yourself to a re-viewing.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Vouchers and Test Scores: Stalking Horses in the War over Education

A few days ago a study was released from the US Department of Education comparing test scores between public and private school students. What was intresting was that, after the scores were compared, a second comparison was made after adjusting for income and other factors, which found that there was statistically little differences between the group scores at the public schools versus the private schools. From the report's summary:
In grades 4 and 8 for both reading and mathematics, students in private schools achieved at higher levels than students in public schools. The average difference in school means ranged from almost 8 points for grade 4 mathematics, to about 18 points for grade 8 reading. The average differences were all statistically significant. Adjusting the comparisons for student characteristics resulted in reductions in all four average differences of approximately 11 to 14 points. Based on adjusted school means, the average for public schools was significantly higher than the average for private schools for grade 4 mathematics, while the average for private schools was significantly higher than the average for public schools for grade 8 reading. The average differences in adjusted school means for both grade 4 reading and grade 8 mathematics were not significantly different from zero.

Comparisons were also carried out with subsets of private schools categorized by sectarian affiliation. After adjusting for student characteristics, raw score average differences were reduced by about 11 to 15 points. In grade 4, Catholic and Lutheran schools were each compared to public schools. For both reading and mathematics, the results were generally similar to those based on all private schools. In grade 8, Catholic, Lutheran, and Conservative Christian schools were each compared to public schools. For Catholic and Lutheran schools for both reading and mathematics, the results were again similar to those based on all private schools. For Conservative Christian schools, the average adjusted school mean in reading was not significantly different from that of public schools. In mathematics, the average adjusted school mean for Conservative Christian schools was significantly lower than that of public schools.

Much has been made of this study in the Edusphere, and you can read some great commentary at Scott Elliot's Get on the Bus, the Illinois Federation of Teachers'website, Edwize, Mike Klonsky's Small Talk, and science blog, to name just a few.

Our vacationing pal EdWonk has a recent post about this study and vouchers up over at his place. This post coincides with the announcement on Wednesday that Congressional Republicans have unveiled a $100 million voucher plan (emphasis mine):
Congressional Republicans on Tuesday proposed a $100 million plan to let poor children leave struggling schools and attend private schools at public expense.

The voucher idea is one in a series of social conservative issues meant to energize the Republican base as midterm elections approach. In announcing their bills, House and Senate sponsors acknowledged that Congress likely won't even vote on the legislation this year.

Still, the move signals a significant education fight to come. GOP lawmakers plan to try to work their voucher plan into the No Child Left Behind law when it is updated in 2007.

"Momentum is on our side," said Representative Howard McKeon, R-California, the chairman of the House education committee.

The Bush administration requested the school-choice plan, but Tuesday's media event caused some awkwardness for the Education Department. The agency just released a study that raises questions about whether private schools offer any advantage over public ones.

Under the new legislation, the vouchers would mainly go to students in poor schools that have failed to meet their progress goals for at least five straight years.

Parents could get $4,000 per year to put toward private-school tuition or a public school outside their local district. They could also seek up to $3,000 per year for extra tutoring.

Supporters say poor parents deserve choices, like rich families have. When schools don't work, said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, "parents must have other opportunities."

During Bush's presidency, Congress approved the first federal voucher program in the District of Columbia, and private-school aid for students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

So far, Congress has refused to approve Bush's national voucher proposals. The new one is the first to target money for kids in schools that have fallen short under federal law.

In the post at EdWonk's place, a voucher proponent makes the following statements:
The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has just released a study comparing the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in public and private schools. As important as this research may sound, I think it is more a symptom of our education problems than a useful tool in solving them.

Generally, studies show students in private schools outperforming students in public schools. However, in this research, statistical adjustment was made to account for differences in socioeconomic background.

The result: Whereas the raw data shows superior performance in private schools, much of that differential is eradicated after the statistical massaging. Public-school fourth-graders did better; however, the reading advantage at the eighth-grade level remained with the private-school kids.

Predictably, the National Education Association wasted no time to use this study to affirm the unqualified success of the public-school system and to use it as ammo to further load up in its endless and tireless attack on vouchers and school choice.

But there are many things the study doesn't say.

One, as John Tierney of The New York Times points out, is that, on average, private-school tuition is about half of what the average public school spends per student (no, most private schools are not fancy New England prep schools). So, even after going through statistical gymnastics to account for differences in kids' backgrounds, public schools spend far more to get not much better results.

Let's try to look at all of this together. First, let me repeat my caveat about statistics. Statistics give a picture of a group average. They are not usually good for seeing individual stories and experiences unless they are statistically significant. For instance, talent is distributed in a statistically insignificant manner throughout the population. That doesn't make talent any less important-- probably makes talent more significant. since there is so little of it. Someone who merely relies on statistics has a view of the world which relies on mean, median, and mode. And none of these are actual reality. Thus, even within these statistical pictures representing public schools and private schools, there are public school kids who scored far higher than private school kids, and there are private school kids who, despite all the advanatages of private school, scored abominably. And vice versa. On a different day, with the same test, one might well get very different results from individual students. This is one study. But it's fun to play with anyway, so we do.

Now, of course, we can view the public-private scores study as impinging upon the voucher debate. No point in demanding that we solve the educational malaise in public schools with vouchers as a cure all if really they work like echinacea on a cold.

Regarding the claim that private schools spend less to educate students than public schools, I would like to echo a commenter over at Edwonk's place by noting that the differential is partially consumed by higher salaries for staff in public schools versus private schools. Another commenter pointed out the vast amount of money which public schools spend on special education, which further drives up the average cost per student. Further, in private schools students often pay for their books and other materials out of pocket, which is not included in the tuition.

Now, the new voucher program that has been put forth by Congressional Republicans would offer $4000 to low income students in failing schools to use toward private school tuition or tuition to another public school.

Would this be adequate? Most private schools in the area where I live charge more than $4000 in tuition, including Catholic and other religious schools. My public school district charges non-resident students more than twice that amount. Where would impoverished parents get the extra money they would need to make up the difference?

Additionally, we must consider one of the main differences between public schools and private schools. A public school must take everyone-- and I mean everyone. A private school may discriminate on the basis of religion, income, handicap, and even test scores. What if this impoverished student with voucher in hand has an IEP or 504 plan? The private school may not be forced to accept this student. If students have had low grades and low test scores, they may be denied admission. Honoring choice in education doesn't really mean that parents have the choice to send their children wherever they want-- private schools have the right to close the doors to whomever they please. Some private schools are set up to educate kids with disabilities-- but their tuitions are often twice that of public schools.

To many of my acquaintances who send their children to some of the more prestigious private schools in our area, one part of the appeal is their exclusivity. There is a cachet to claiming affiliation with one of these places, even if that affiliation is through one's children. Once vouchers are in place and extended to those of all income levels, what is to keep these schools from raising tuition or maintaining admissions standards in such a way as to keep the hoi polloi out while providing a nifty rebate to those who would pay private school tuition anyway? Answer: nothing. Some universities did just that as money from the GI Bill flowed into higher education in the years after World War II.

Now, many proponents of vouchers who send their children to private school already claim that they should not be forced to support an institution from which they get no benefit or with which they do not agree. If all citizens in our society were allowed to make this argument successfully, we wouldn't have much of a society or a functional government. I know many people who would like to redirect their tax moneys away from supporting the war in Iraq. I know other people who really do not wish to help foot the bill for Joe Schmoe's mother to stay in a nursing home after she has spent down her assets. I can think of quite a few public officials whose salaries I would like the option of not supporting with my tax dollars.

Older adults with grown children or corporations often make this kind of argument when their local school district tries to get a tax increase voted in. They fail to realize that a large part of the value of their homes and businesses is dependent upon having good quality schools in the area. In addition, companies need to have access to qualified workers. The quality of local public schools is a factor in attracting relocating businesses, which then effects the economy of the entire area. Thus, even if they have no children enrolled in their local public schools, all residents have an investment in maintaining good schools. Likewise, a large part of our nation's strength and leadership in the world is directly tied to public financial support which provides access to schools for all. We all pay for the fire department even if our house never burns down. People who make these kinds of arguments value the individual far more than society and community.

Causing the collapse of public education will not increase the choices for anyone. Vouchers and tests designed to make all schools appear to fail are one step down this dark path.

****Update: By the way, for some interesting info on the DC Schools voucher program, which is the only federal voucher program in place (due to the fact that Congress controls the District of Columbia) head over to A Constrained Vision.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Tolerance for school shooter in Nevada?

Apparently the Old West mentality lives on in Reno, where a middle school student has received his sentence for shooting a schoolmate in March.
A judge on Friday agreed that a 14-year-old Pine Middle School student who shot a classmate should be sentenced to house arrest.

Prosecutors challenged Court Master Janet Schmuck's May ruling involving James Newman, who said he brought his father's gun to school March 14 because he was sick of being made fun of.

But Washoe District Family Court Judge Frances Doherty sided with Schmuck's ruling, dismissing claims that Schmuck abused her discretion.

Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick had called Schmuck's ruling "crazy," and during Friday's hearing, Deputy District Attorney Jo Lee Wickes said Schmuck's decision did not consider public safety.

Wickes added that Newman would benefit more from being incarcerated because he would have more education, socialization and recreation opportunities.

Before shooting Alex Rueda, 14, in the arm, Newman told one of his friends to run. Gym teacher Jencie Fagan persuaded Newman to throw down the gun, and hugged him until police arrived.

Rueda was treated and released. Kenzie McKeon, 14, was hit by a ricocheted bullet. She was treated at the scene.

Newman had been held in the county's juvenile detention center for more than two months when he was released on house arrest. His mother is home-schooling him.

Newman's attorney, David Houston, said the boy is doing well on house arrest and that psychiatrists deemed him a low risk to commit similar violent offenses.

Houston said the prosecutor's claim that Schmuck abused her discretion was based on "societal revenge" because he was not incarcerated for a crime that sent fear through the school and the community.

I am intrigued by the ADA's claim that actually jail would be more fun for the youngster. So actually, house arrest is MORE of a punishment than juvy. Oh. I also wonder if, had gym teacher Jencie Fagan worked in New York City, he or she would be in big trouble for disobeying the directive not to intervene in student altercations. Meanwhile, Newman's attorney claims that Newman has the mentality of a 12-year-old. And he's --what?-- fourteen? I've known a lot of 14-year-old boys that would fit that description.

And by the way, as further punishment, Newman is not allowed to get a driver's license until ninety whole days AFTER his 16th birthday, nor is he allowed to get a hunting license for two whole years. Man, that frontier justice sure is tough out in Nevada. Of course, all the weapons in his house are supposed to be removed while he is under house arrest and being home-schooled.

Of course, in all seriousness, now, this would all have been avoided had intervention taken place regarding the bullying. Or if his parents had locked up their weapons and ammunition.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Carnival of Education #76 is on FIRE!

Our indefatiguable hero, Mike in Texas, is lighting 'em up over at his place this week with a stupendously incendiary version of the Carnival of Education. I salute his ability to pull together such a broad mix of posts given that the temperature in his neck of the woods makes the surface of the Sun seem like the North Woods.

How hot is it? It's so hot, it gives me a chance to share with you one of my favorite stories in honor of Mike, who teaches science and technology.

A thermodynamics professor had written a take home exam for his graduate students. It had one question: "Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)? Support your answer with a proof." Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant. One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So, we need to know the rate that souls are moving into Hell and the rate they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all people and all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.

Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand as souls are added. This gives two possibilities.

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Therese Banyan during my Freshman year, that "it will be a cold night in Hell before I sleep with you," and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then #2 cannot be true, and so . . .

Hell is exothermic.

The student got the only A.

And Mike should get an A, too, for all his hard work. Flame on!

Go drop a line at historyiselementary

Elementaryhistoryteacher's mother passed away a few days ago. This seems to be the year for these life-altering events. She's got a sweet tribute up over at her place with a photo of her lovely mom from a bygone year.

Won't you go over and drop EHT a small note? She is a charming lady and a source of much wisdom and comfort. Pass it on.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Chicken Tawook, Radiohead, and other Randomness

To whomever is looking on Google for a chicken tawook dinner in Tulsa and found this site, you want to go Halim and Mimi's near the University of Tulsa campus on 11th street. This is the best Mediterranean/Lebanese food in the Land Between the Coasts. It's a small place-- don't miss it. I think it's only open from 11 to 3 on weekdays now, but make the effort! Trust me-- I never kid about garlicky goodness.

For those of you who love Radiohead, I have one question: OK Computer or Kid A? Now that Thom is releasing a solo album, I thought I'd ask.

Is Christy Brinkley cursed in love? It feels so weird to be pitying such a goddess....

How do I embed a YouTube video into a post?

Why does Mike Klonsky repeatedly think my name is Neil Finn? I'm not THAT obsessed about him, am I?

There are people in Jakarta who have read this blog. I find that amazing.

Guess who called to get me to beg, beg, beg me to come back to them today, after we have settled into dish-bliss? The Cable Company! It was hard not to laugh rudely when they offered me eighty whole channels! Tchah!

And everybody, all together now: AAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!

Yes, he's that cute. He almost puts me in insulin-shock.

Daze of Our Lies: The St. Louis Public Schools' latest soap opera

So here's more information for those of you who were wondering how NOT to run a school district out in the Land Between the Coasts:

The firing of Creg Williams by the St. Louis Public Schools school board just keeps the entertainment value high-- if of course, you are someone who finds the failure to educate thousands of students funny. Some of us just get disgusted.

First, apparently Williams earned the enmity of current Board President Veronica O'Brien when he supported the incumbent board members in the last school board election. O'Brien is one of the challengers who was elected in their place. Quite interesting is the way that Ms. O'Brien spoke of Mr. Williams after she won election. As reported in the St. Louis paper here:
Tension over Williams' stance surfaced two days after the election, when board member - and soon-to-be-named Board President Veronica O'Brien - provided a hint of what lay ahead.

"Everybody gets three strikes," she said. "And maybe he'll redeem himself. We're going to have to have somebody walk behind him so he gets trained."

Williams riposted a week later with an image from a Dave Matthews song:
"I am not a monkey on a string, and I am not a dog on a leash," he said. "I have a job to do and I'm going to do whatever I can to run this district as best I know how."

On Friday, the clash that started to build months ago came to a head. Four of the seven board members forced Williams' resignation.

Afterward, the district's attorney told the board not to discuss the circumstances that led to the resignation.

Two of Williams' supporters, Ron Jackson and Robert Archibald, say they have no problem obeying the order because they've yet to be informed why Williams was pushed out.

So what did Williams do or not do, exactly, which merited firing? There are several things mentioned: that he didn't involve teachers enough, that he didn't get class sizes down, that he didn't turn over financial information quickly enough as the board tried to prepare a (still unpassed) budget, which faces a deficit of many millions of dollars. (And, by the way, good luck on lowering class sizes in a district which already has dozens of unfilled teaching positions every year.) But apparently, another nail in the coffin was that neither he nor his assistants were from St. Louis:
Some critics also questioned Williams' commitment to St. Louis itself. Most of his top lieutenants came from other cities.

"The whole point seemed to be, if you were from St. Louis you weren't good enough to help the schools," [Teachers' union Pesident Mary] Armstrong said.

Well, let's see... Mr. Williams was hired as a result of a nationwide search. Generally, a nationwide search produces people who are, um, from all across the nation.

And frankly, until Diana Bourisaw, who replaced Williams under what seems to be fortuitous circumstances, took the job, a local candidate seemed highly unlikely. Given the fascinatingly bizarre events which seem to swirl around this school district, it seems one might need to go to Bora Bora to find someone unfamiliar enough with the turmoil to be willing to take the job.

Because here's the problem: several people are calling for the state of Missouri to take over the school district, and they believe they have a pretext: if Ms. Bourisaw, whom Ms. O'Brien referred to admiringly as a "pit bull," can't get the district ready to open by the planned starting date of August 28, the state could claim that the district is violating state law by not providing the minimum number of days of instruction:
The future of an already-troubled district propelled further into disarray by Friday's forced resignation of former Superintendent Creg Williams is far more uncertain.

By giving Bourisaw just six weeks to prepare for an academic year in which dramatic districtwide reforms are scheduled to kick in, the departure of Williams and top members of his staff could ironically result in the outcome the board majority hoped to avoid when it toppled the former superintendent: a state takeover of Missouri's largest school system.

The law allows the state to assume control of a district unable to keep classrooms open for a minimum of 174 days of instruction.

"I believe the law could be interpreted to say that if a district fails to open school, that could very well be grounds for a state takeover," state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokesman Jim Morris said Saturday. "If that is the case, I think it might be legitimate grounds for intervention."

And the possibility that the St. Louis schools may not open, Morris added, is a major source of apprehension at state school headquarters.

"Because there have been so many departures to the central office lately, volunteer and otherwise, we are concerned they won't have people in place to provide for an orderly opening of school."

School Board President Veronica O'Brien, who orchestrated what quickly became known as the "Friday night coup," said Bourisaw, the former Fox District superintendent, has been assembling a brain trust of local education leaders and business persons to ensure that the schools will open on time Aug. 28.

"Basically, she's bringing in a SWAT team," O'Brien said.

Board Vice President William Purdy acknowledged Bourisaw and her team face a steep challenge. He cited the restructuring of three high schools and four middle schools, continuing uncertainty about teaching assignments, the transfer of more than 600 Cleveland High School students to a new building and the addition of new principals at three high schools.

"I'm cautiously optimistic we can get our arms wrapped around these problems," he said. Four days prior to Williams' departure, Purdy had told a reporter he feared the opening of school would be a "complete disaster."

The public is worried, too, according to more than a dozen pastors who gathered to discuss Williams' ouster Saturday at Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church on Compton Avenue.

And at a hurriedly organized "gathering" Monday night, at which Ms. Bourisaw was introduced to the public by the four members who voted to hire her and fire Mr. Williams, several parents got into a shouting match with one of the board members.

Board President O'Brien claims that Missouri education officials have been in the loop all along:
In a week when rumors of St. Louis Schools Superintendent Creg Williams' potential ouster floated through the city, one agency besides the School Board knew exactly what was about to transpire.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was contacted by Board members Ron Jackson and Robert Archibald, who supported Williams.

State Education Commissioner Kent King also was kept abreast of developments by School Board President Veronica O'Brien, the key force behind Williams' ouster.

"The state knew this was going to happen," the board president said [Friday].

"I have been communicating with (King) through this whole process and so has (new interim Superintendent Diana Bourisaw). He has known just about every move that was taken and he knew it ahead of time."

But what King knew was about to happen, said education department spokesman Jim Morris, most definitely did not have the state's blessing.

"He (King) told me it was the wrong move at the wrong time for them," Morris said Saturday. "The district doesn't need any more instability and controversy at this juncture."

At a time when accusations and counter-accusations are flying around thicker than a biblical plague of locusts, this much is sure: for too long the students in St. Louis Public Schools have not been the primary concern of those who make decisions within the district. Ms. Bourisaw previously oversaw a racially homogeneous, outrider suburban school district with about 11,000 students. Given that the start of school is only six weeks away, and there are still teaching openings unfilled, schools with reorganizations barely started, and an anger level higher than is usual, she is going to have a tough row to hoe to get this district on its feet, and her every move will be even more scrutinized due to the manner in which she has obtained the superintendency. I really hope that no one wishes her failure, because, really, this is about far more than the success or failure of one superintendent or another.

It's the education of 35,000 students which matters.

Let me repeat that. It's the education of 35,000 students that matters!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Movie Madness Monday: the 22nd iteration

Ha ha! Hee hee! Ho ho! It is my pleasure to bring you yet another game of Movie Madness Monday, the movie quote trivia fest.

Here's how we play: I give you a few quotes from a movie. You put one of your favorite quotes from the same movie in the comments. We do not reveal the name of the movie until Wednesday. And spread the word to your pals! I always get a kick out of new playmates, especially during the doldrums of summer.

I have a new hope to see the movie geekiness roll off the pages this time. Last week I had people piling on their comments 5 minutes after posting. Let's see how well I do with intriguing you this week....

"Don't you call ME a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease!"

"Here's where the fun begins!"

"That's funny- the damage doesn't look so bad from out here.... Are you sure this thing is safe?"

"You can't win. But there ARE alternatives to fighting."

"Bring 'em on! I'd prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around!"

"We're doomed!"

"You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."

"You must do what you think is right, of course."

****Wednesday Update: Of course, the movie is

STAR WARS IV (which used to be I): A New Hope!

You may now go completely wild with the obvious quotes. Y'all were really good about picking the obscure ones. Now feel free to add: "That's no moon, that's a space station!" and so on.

Am I the only person who feels bitterly betrayed by the latest trilogy? I found them to be dead, humorless, and wooden. The scripts lack the humor and repartee of the original three. The acting (Hayden Christiansen covers the gamut from pout to whine quite nicely) is awful. Maybe it's just me-- but after teaching middle school for a thousand years, I think I've heard "It's not fair!" quite enough, thank you. But from Darth Vader? No, it doesn't compute.

There are no scoundrels. There is no laughing in the face of danger. And really, if Queen Amidala is perhaps eight years older than Annikin, why doesn't she act like it? I mean, she ran a planet at 13! You know Carrie Fisher has had a great sideline as a script doctor-- maybe George hould have brought her in.

But this film-- ahhh, now THIS is a classic! Let's all go watch it this weekend. I've got just the TV and I'll even spring for the popcorn.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

God and Man in School

Dennis has a lovely post discussing the myth that God has abandoned the public schools over at his place. It is beautifully written. I hope you go over and read it; it is really well-crafted and obviously comes straight from the heart. Here's the intro: Dennis was sent one of those chain emails:
Billy Graham's daughter was being interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her "How could God let something like this happen?" And Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response. She said "I believe that God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman that He is, I believe that He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand that He leave us alone?"

I want to make it clear that this is not meant as a criticism of anyone for sending along this e-mail message. I have no doubt that anyone doing so had the best of intentions. I'm responding because it contains a message that infuriates me when I hear it, and I've been hearing it for a number of years, now. That is the message that we do not allow God in public schools.

Then he starts a lovely rumination:
But even if we don't have school prayers, that doesn't mean we don't allow God in school. Maybe I'm spiritually confused, but I see God more in the way people go about their everyday affairs than in whether or not they are comfortable with public prayer. When teachers go out of their way to help students, isn't God in our school? When some kid who "gets it" tries to help some kid who doesn't "get it," isn't God in our school?

There's plenty more there, and it's wonderful.

My sixth grade teacher apparently had never heard of the Supreme Court, and every day we all took turns starting the class off with a prayer. In my junior high, many kids who went to a certain church liked to carry their Bibles with them to class every day. I don't think they ever opened them in school, but there they were, sitting on the desks in every class. You know, a nice necklace or brooch or tietack, or even, had they followed a different denomination, a big, honkin' crucifix would have been just as effective a statement, and certainly would have been lighter, but they never asked me-- although they did ask me where MY Bible was, and I think I said something snarky about not needing to carry it because I had the lessons INSIDE the Bible stored in my brain. (Once a smart-ass, always a smart-ass.)

But anyway, back to the point of Ms. Graham.

As someone who was forced to participate in "sword drills" (that could be a whole post to explain, in and of itself) and mass memorization of scripture as my mother wandered among 8 different fundamentalist or charismatic denominations before I was 14, I would say that Ms. Graham and others of her ilk apparently don't know their scripture too well and I say this with gentleness, not meanness. (Yes, I am that most strange creature- an Episcopalian who is familiar with the Bible. Insert joke here. Go ahead-- I can take it.)

Has God abandoned our schools, our government, our country because we do not publicly insert our worship of God into the business of the day?

If God didn't abandon David even when he was mired in murder and adultery, then I don't think God would abandon the public schools (See II Samuel, chapter 11).

If God didn't desert Saul all the way until his conversion on the road to Damascus, then I don't think God would abandon the public schools (see Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9).

Further, if God did not abandon John Newton as he willingly kidnapped thousands of people from their homes and sold them into slavery, then I don't think God would abandon the public schools. As Newton later wrote: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!"

If God does not abandon the most inveterate, unreformed murderer on death row, who converts as the balance of his or her life hangs heavy upon his or her vicious heart (I'm thinking of Karla Faye Tucker in particular), then I don't think God would abandon public schools.

Throughout the Holy Scripture that many people claim that they follow by every comma, dash, and apostrophe, the message is that people despair, but God remains steadfast.

People who claim that God has abandoned public schools (and our government and our country) are decrying the fact that public schools do not allow public prayer and worship within the course of the school day.

But what does the sixth chapter of Matthew say (verses 5 through 8)? "When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. In praying, don't use vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking. Therefore don't be like them, for your Father knows what things you need, before you ask him."

And to paraphrase that story about the footprints in the sand, non-scriptural as it is, when people complain that God has abandoned them, it is because they have closed their hearts to the presence of God; when we don't hear God answering us (and sometimes, by the way, silence IS an answer) God is being quiet, listening because there we are, yammering away, talking so much that we don't hear anything.

My students don't have to know my personal religious beliefs for me to feel that I am answering the sacred calling that resonates within me to be a teacher. After all, education and religion are both about redemption.

Banana Republic School Board strikes again

This just in-- Creg Williams, the Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, was fired Friday at an emergency school board session. You may remember that I posted about Williams' program to help 8th graders make the transition to high school. Here's the story from the Kansas City Star:
St. Louis school Superintendent Creg Williams was fired Friday after just over a year on the job.

The vote to fire Williams came in an emergency closed session. St. Louis School Board member Robert Archibald told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the vote to oust Williams was 4-3.

The board hired Diana Bourisaw, the former Fox District superintendent, Archibald said. She was brought in a few weeks ago to conduct an audit of the St. Louis schools.

Several key members of Williams' administration were also fired. Archibald, who supports Williams, called the board's actions a case of adults acting like children. He said the only ones being hurt by the firing are the students.

Mayor Francis Slay, visibly upset by the ouster, called it a "damn shame," and "disastrous" for the district's 35,000 students.

"This board drove out a man who has vision, energy, a plan and commitment to kids," Slay said.

He said the best thing that could happen now is a state takeover of the district.

Williams served in St. Louis for only 15 months, after working as an assistant administrator in Chicago and Philadelphia. He signed a four-year contract with a previous board.

No reason for the firing has been disclosed, but Williams publicly sparred with the board this week over the firing of Vashon High School basketball coach Floyd Irons.

Williams had complained that he didn't know about the decision to fire Irons because of unauthorized spending until the end of an executive session at Tuesday's School Board meeting. He said if it were up to him, Irons would have continued coaching at Vashon.

Earlier this week, Williams dismissed rumors that he had applied for vacant superintendent posts in Boston and Baltimore and vowed to stand up for his job.

A bit of background: earlier this week one of the winningest basketball coaches in the state, who had coached (and been principal at one point) at one of the most dreary, distressed, academically impoverished schools in the SLPS was fired for various financial improprieties (spending money on a scoreboard, fancy uniforms for his team, etc.). Apparently his firing by the board caught Williams by surprise, and many claimed that the coach's firing was a shot across the bow for Williams himself. He was interviewed in the St. Louis paper today saying he had no intention of quitting and knew nothing about being fired.

Th St. Louis Public Schools have had a plethora of problems, many of them self-inflicted. The previous superintendent before Mr. Williams was a former Brooks Brothers executive who ran a corporate turn-around firm, and his tenure was marked with insanity on the part of certain board members (example: a previous board member put a hex on the mayor and claimed one of her enemies had put cocaine in her coffee) and furious parents at board meetings when schools were closed. Mr. Williams was the first person in a long time who seemed willing and able to try to take positive steps to deal with the requisite problems of a large urban school district. He's been on the job for fifteen months.

There are factions of people who have a vested interest in the St. Louis Public Schools-- specifically they have a vested interest in continuing the chaos that has reigned there for decades so that they may fatten themselves at the expense of the students. The district has a chronic shotage of certified teachers and has actually tried to recruit teachers from overseas. Some classes struggle along with permanent substitutes for the entire academic year. The school year arrives with textbooks missing or in the wrong places every year. Truly, the cockroaches have been scurrying for cover ever since it looked like Williams was actually going to try to get the district on sound academic and fiscal footing.

This is yet another significant step back for the St. Louis Public Schools, and once again it is 35,000 students who are left to suffer the consquences. Those behind this coup should be ashamed.

***Update: Liz at I Speak of Dreams has more on this story, and she has links which I was too wiped out to find at 1 am last night about some of the nutsy history of this district.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Truant—or homeschooled?

How does one determine if a child is really being homeschooled? Well, I ran across this one, and found it interesting. From Marion, Illinois:
This weekend will bring jail time for a Marion woman convicted of allowing her 15-year-old son to remain truant for almost an entire school year.

Williamson County Judge Ronald Eckiss sentenced Kim Harris to 48 hours in the Williamson County Jail. Harris was also ordered to pay court costs incurred.

Eckiss found Harris guilty of knowingly and willfully permitting her son’s truancy throughout the 2004-05 school year, despite Harris’ claims that she was home-schooling her son.

Williamson County State’s Attorney Charles Garnati filed charges against Harris in 2005. An investiga-tion by the Regional Office of Education determined that Harris’ son, then 15 years old, was not being home-schooled by his mother, Garnati said.

While public defender Rob Bateson argued that Harris’ employment would be in jeopardy if she received jail time, Eckiss ordered Harris to appear at the jail at 6 p.m. Saturday, where she is to remain until 6 p.m. Monday.

“Ms. Harris, I don’t think you’re taking this serious,” Eckiss said.

Harris was convicted of a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

An investigator from the Regional Office of Education determined Harris’ son had been truant from home-schooling from Oct. 8, 2004, to March 28, 2005, Garnati said.

Eckiss told Harris, who said her son was currently attending an alternative school, that one conviction did not mean she was exempt from future prosecution.

“They will prosecute you again — and I’ll just keep adding them up,” Eckiss said. “We’re going to get your attention. Your son needs an education.”

Ignoring the judge’s poor grammar (it’s “seriously”, not “serious”), I wondered if there were more to this story, and I found this from April 29, 2005:
Williamson County State's Attorney Charles Garnati is taking a tougher stance with parents who fail to follow established curriculum guidelines when home schooling their children.

On Thursday, he announced at a press conference that he has charged Marion resident Kim Harris with permitting truancy, a Class C misdemeanor punishable up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Harris is said to have willingly and knowingly allowed her 15-year-old son to be truant.

Garnati stressed that he supports home-schooling in general, just not for parents who abuse the privilege.

Some parents have allowed their children to be truant from public schools, and when threatened with legal action, have pulled their children from that school to avoid prosecution, Garnati said.

"It's what I call an end around," Garnati said. "These are parents who have no intention of home-schooling their child. Unfortunately, there is no law on the books that criminalizes improper home schooling. What concerns me are those children who are chronically truant from school."

In Illinois, chronic truancy is 10 percent absenteeism from the classroom. In Williamson County, Garnati said, he files truancy charges against four to five parents each year. Harris is the first, however, who claimed to be home-schooling her child at the time charges were filed.

"Our priority is to get children back in school and not have to take the parents or kids to court," Garnati said.

Admitting that the Harris case is pretty much a "test" case, Garnati said he made his decision to prosecute after he and Marion school district officials had exhausted all other efforts to solve the problem.

Mickey Sullivan, truant officer with the regional superintendent of schools office in Herrin, said the number of truancy cases has dwindled in the county under Garnati's watch. But she believes the number of children who are home-schooled who are not receiving proper instruction has increased.

"People don't have to register with our office if they decide to home-school their kids," Sullivan said. "The only way we know the student is being home-schooled is if the parent pulls the student from the school for whatever reason or if we get a report that the student has been seen out on the streets. Otherwise, it's hard to track."

Sullivan said one of the keys to solving truancy and delinquent home-schooling parents is for state's attorneys and judges to take a tough stand with the families involved.

"You don't generally go to jail for truancy, but you can for contempt of court if the judge orders you to go to school and you don't go," Sullivan said. "Fortunately, Williamson County is one of the few counties that will support truancy laws."

In the Harris case, Sullivan said she made three trips to the residence to see if there was an established curriculum. In each case, however, she found that there wasn't one.

"She didn't produce any evidence of home-schooling," Sullivan said. "It's important that we send the message to those parents who are not home-schooling their kids properly that they can be prosecuted."

Marion High School Principal Gerald Murphy said the dispute is not whether or not children are enrolled in public schools or home-schooled, but rather if the parents who choose to home school are trying to get around the system and not provide a quality education for their child.

I'm not too sure the word "privilege" should have been applied to the concept of homeschooling in the second piece. Parents have a right to determine the best means of obtaining an education for their children, as long as an education is in fact obtained. Apparently, in Illinois, there is a dispute as to whether then minimum amount of time required by state law—176 days of instruction and 5 hours per day—applies to homeschoolers. In addition, from my brief search, I found that Illinois school districts may send truant officers to a home if they do not get a withdrawal letter and request for records by at most 14 days after a student is withdrawn from attendance.

To be honest, in regards to truancy, in the area in which I live, as long as a parent calls in an excused absence to the school, a child can pretty much be gone for weeks with no consequences, although most local area schools may withhold credit for a student who has more than thirty days of absences in a semester. It doesn’t happen often, to be honest (the consequences, not the truancy).

I have had mixed experiences with homeschooled youngsters. I have known a homeschooling family in my neighborhood who were always having their kids do some sort of cool scientific experiment or sending the kids over to discuss some great novel that they were reading—we kind of had tutorials in the front yard during the summer. For years, a homeschooling family in a nearby area has sent their children to the national spelling and geography bees. On the other hand, there were the grandparents who claimed to be “homeschooling” their grandson who allowed him to skateboard all over the neighborhood, smoking cigarettes and hanging out at the shopping center six to seven hours a day. He finally demonstrated a haphazard knowledge of the works of Keith Waring upon some public buildings, which garnered the attention of the authorities at long last. (Basically, it came out that the kid was terrorizing the grandparents and they were afraid of him.) I've also known a mother who claimed she couldn't get her five-year old out of bed, and when the school wouldn't "help" her get the moppet up every morning, she began "homeschooling" the child.

I know homeschool parents who work really hard to provide their children with a rich educational experience—and I know families who let their kids run wild and call it homeschooling. I do think there should be some evidence of a curriculum, assessment, and instruction, however. The future of an educated populace depends upon a quality education for all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

This one's for you, Elementaryhistoryteacher

Elementaryhistoryteacher is celebrating a milestone: her 100th post, and she's even providing games to play.

I'm representing 100. So I decided to follow some good advice: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Get it?

Happy Hundredth Post! Here's hoping for several hundred more!

Education Carnival #75 goes to La-La Land

As the great Randy Newman once noted:

"Roll down the window --put down the top
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby
Don't let the music stop!

We're gonna blog it till we just can't blog it no more..."

From NYC to La-La Land, the Carnival of Education careens over to the Left Coast at School Me, the Los Angeles Times' education-oriented blog.

We Love It!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Confronting the transition to high school

Mr. McNamar posted some excellent points at The Daily Grind regarding the struggle of freshmen as they transition to high school, and Graycie has a thought-provoking post of her own on the same subject entitled Transition Years.

This subject has been of great interest to me, since I was a middle school teacher for many years. Anyone who has been following this blog from its inception knows that while I adore middle school kids, I am no fan of the "middle school philosophy." I don't think we help our kids get an education by allowing them to coast academically for several years while they try to get their heads on straight-- I don't believe that should be the primary goal of education.

So I found this news article interesting:
"It's giving us better perspective. We're learning to be proactive rather than reactive."

These are not the words of a junior vice president for internal marketing at an annuity brokerage. They were spoken by Demarco DeAndre Shaw, a young man on the brink of his freshman year at the city's Clyde C. Miller Career Academy High School.

Let's acknowledge that "proactive" is not a word normally bantered about by high school freshmen. Ditto "synergy," "prioritize" and - especially - "self-awareness."

What, then, was Shaw talking about as he sat at a table with a group of classmates last week in the Miller cafeteria?

Precisely what St. Louis schools Superintendent Creg Williams hoped Shaw and other freshmen would say when he added a class on self-development to the summer school curriculum.

To understand how Williams concluded that next year's ninth-graders could use a course with the "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" as a text, it's instructive to look at the most recent group of freshmen to enter the city's high school.

At one point last winter, over 70 percent of that ninth-grade class lacked one or more of the credits needed to move to the 10th grade. Alarmed by the numbers, Williams yanked the entire freshman class out of Vashon High School halfway through the school year and installed them in a new ninth-grade academy a few blocks away.

By the time classes ended, the performance of ninth-graders had improved somewhat. Meanwhile, Williams decided to launch a pre-preemptive strike he hopes will keep the district's history of low-performing freshmen from repeating itself.

First, he mandated that incoming ninth-graders - with a few exemptions - attend summer school.

Second, in addition to classes aimed at improving math and language arts skills, he introduced a class meant to teach freshmen what it means and what it takes to succeed at the high school level.

"It's important they understand that they have to change their lifestyle to adapt to high school," said Williams.

To put students on the path, Williams assigned the teen edition of the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," the best-selling self-help tome by Stephen R. Covey.

The "7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens," written by Covey's son Sean Covey, provides a litany of common-sense advice, from developing effective study habits to resisting negative peer pressure.

"It gives them the tools they need to be successful in high school, a head start for what's to come," said Jacqueline Farwell, a Clyde C. Miller counselor who teaches the effective teens class.

Right now, Covey's bromides are just words in a book. But Miller freshman Bria Harris can already see how one of the seven habits - putting first things first (also known as prioritizing) - will help her become more effective once school begins in August.

"You have too much to worry about in high school - homework, studying, your reputation, problems at home, the kids at school. This will really help," she said.

While prioritizing is all well and good, Harris and Shaw agree with Covey that another "P" word is the "key to unlocking all the other habits."

Being proactive, writes Covey, means "I am the force. I am the captain of my life. I can choose my attitude. I'm responsible for my own happiness or unhappiness. I am in the driver's seat of my destiny, not just a passenger."

Or, to put it another way, "When somebody tells you that you need to go somewhere with them, you tell them you have to study."

So said Shaw, spoken from the perspective of a proactive ninth-grader.

The transition to high school can be so brutal for so many students. Give the (relatively new) superintendent credit for bold action. At the same time he pulled the ninth graders out, he also arranged for upperclassmen who had demonstrated potential to attend classes at a local public university, as a taste of what they could accomplish if they dedicated themselves to academic success.

Let me tell you, when he pulled the 9th graders out of their school in the middle of the year, there was some uproar. One kid even was verbally disrepsectful to the superintendent at an assembly he held with the students (he was shocked by this behavior, a bit naively.)

Perhaps he should go further. I wonder if, once he pulled the 9th graders out and gave them the summer school shock treatment, Mr. Williams should start building a high school around those students who have undergone intervention as an experiment to determine the effect of the interventions free of corrosive influences.

It is obvious something has to be done given the crisis in the St. Louis Public Schools, and indeed nearly all urban school districts across the nation.

Movie Madness Monday: v. 21

Okay, then! Here comes this week's Movie Madness Monday, in which I kid myself that I am NOT as nerdy as some quiz says I am (still stung by that one, yep).

So here's how to play: I provide quotes from a movie. You provide a quote of your own from the movie-- in the comments section. The movie's name is then revealed on Wednesday. It's simple! It's fun! And, it's inevitable, because here it comes!

"Uh-oh! Sounds like somebody's got a case of the 'Mondays!'"

"He's my boss! He's my unholy, disgusting, pig of a boss!"
"He's not that disgusting!"
"He represents all that is soulless and wrong!"

"So you're making a lot of money..."
"... that's not yours..."
"Well, it becomes ours."
"And how is that not stealing?"

"I was told I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from 9 to 11...."

"The thing is, Bob-- it's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care."

"When I saw that fat man keel over and die... --Michael, we don't have a lot of time on this Earth! We weren't meant to spend it this way! Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles and stare at computer screens-- filling out useless forms and listening to eight diferent bosses drone on about mission statements!"

"Yes, but I'm not going to do anything illegal!"
"Illegal? This is America!!!"

"Excuse me? Uh, I believe you have my stapler?"

****Wednesday Update: Welcome to the world of

Mike Judge's brilliant Office Space! Even though teachers don't work in cubicles, so much of this rings true-- the misbegotten printer you want to smash into bits, the territoriality of coworkers, the bosses who don't listen, the demands that eat up your personal time, and on and on....

"And, and I told Don too, because they've moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn't bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it's not okay because if they take my stapler then I'll set the building on fire..."

This one truly is a new classic for the Working World. And thanks for playing!

Friday, July 07, 2006

I DEMAND a recount!

Sure, I'll take my chances, I thought. I'll be able to tease my husband about what a cool chick he married and remind him about the sliderule (my hero Heinlein would call it a slipstick) AND graphing calculator he used to wear on his BELT in college.

I am nerdier than 81% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

GAAAAAASSSSP! I am being punished for having a head for trivia-- yeah, that's it!

But then again, it IS a Friday night, and I am sitting at home in front of a computer.....

Tea, Empathy, and a really cool Yoda graphic, too

Thanks to the LA Times' education blog, School Me!, (Home of the Teablog Awards!) for the feature yesterday on my advice to rookie teachers post from last week. I also want to thank NYC Educator for including it in the Carnival of Education #74.

And Joanne Jacobs
and Dewey's Treehouse
and mister teacher
and Scott Elliot
and TonNet (In espanol!)

That post really touched a nerve out in the Edusphere, and I am deeply gratified so many people liked it, not to mention the people who contributed suggestions. It was truly a group effort, and I think I added suggestions to it about twenty times. (And I'm willing to do it for twenty more-- as Arlo Guthrie said!) I really hoped, when I started this blog, to be able to take part in reasoned, passionate, informative discusions about topics just like this one, among others. So keep 'em coming!

(Aside-- can anyone tell me how to post a comment at School Me? All I get is a permalink....)

The enemy of terrorists? Education

We seem to forget that there are plenty of countries not sitting atop petroleum reserves that are menaced by terrorists who are every bit as much our enemies as Saddam Hussein ever was.

The Taliban (remember them?) is apparently far from willing to concede defeat in Afghanistan. They realize that the only way to control the populace is to keep it mired in ignorance. In particular, it is a cardinal principle of the Taliban to prevent girls from obtaining any sort of an education in Afghanistan:
Unable to win on the battlefield, the Taliban are trying to discredit the Kabul government by blocking its efforts to raise Afghanistan out of its long dark age. They particularly want to undo one of the biggest changes of the past four years: the resumption of education for girls, which the Taliban outlawed soon after taking power in 1996. "The extremists want to show the people that the government and the international community cannot keep their promises," says Ahmad Nader Nadery of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Today the Ministry of Education says the country has 1,350 girls' schools, along with 2,900 other institutions that hold split sessions, with girls-only classes in the afternoon. (Coeducation is still forbidden.) More than a third of Afghanistan's 5 million schoolchildren are now girls, compared with practically none in early 1992. In the last six months, however, Taliban attacks and threats of attacks have disrupted or shut down more than 300 of those schools.

Most of the closures have been in the far south, where the Taliban are strongest, but schools are also getting hit in areas that used to be relatively safe, like the fertile river valleys of Laghman province. The rock-walled compound where Nooria attends classes is one of six schools for girls in the province that have been torched so far this year. The damage at two of them was so bad that they remain closed. In nearby Logar province, arsonists have struck 10 sister schools—all within 50 miles of Kabul. "People are extremely frightened," says Palwasha Shaheed Kakar, the AIHRC representative in neighboring Nangarhar province, where at least eight other schools have burned. "These extremists need to attack only one or two schools to send a strong message."

The girls' school in Haider Khani village, just up the main road from Mandrawar, has suffered a sharp drop in attendance since January, when masked gunmen forced their way in and torched the place. Before the attack, up to 80 percent of the families in Haider Khani were sending their daughters to school, according to the principal, Fazal Rabi. An American military Provincial Reconstruction Team quickly repaired the damage and reopened the school. Even so, the principal reckons that only 40 percent of the village's preteen girls came back, and only 10 percent of the teenagers. Parents dread what might happen on the walk to school. Teachers get scared, too. Since the Mandrawar attack, Nooria's teacher, Farida, has traveled to and from school every day wearing a burqa and escorted by a male relative. "Otherwise I fear my nose and hair will be cut off," she told NEWSWEEK.

Even the country's 4,250 boys-only schools are vulnerable to attack. Some enemies of the Kabul government claim that the school system is no more than a plot to impose Western ideas—even Christianity—on the country's Muslim children. Back in February, Taliban fighters threatened to shut down the boys-only school in the town of Ghanzi, an hour's drive north of Kabul, according to Malak Mirza, 55, a local tribal elder. The townspeople sent back a warning that the Taliban would be driven out of the area if the school was attacked. The Taliban relented on one condition: no Christian-ity (which is very occasionally taught in Afghanistan—surreptitiously—by zealous missionaries). They distrust any education that takes place outside madrassas. "These extremists know that educated children are unlikely to follow religious extremism in the future," says Nadery. "The Taliban want to keep us backward."

There's more to read in the whole thing, and I encourage you to read it. It has been my understanding that literacy is basically a requirement if one wants to be a good Muslim, since one must be able to read the Holy Qur'an (in Arabic) in order to remain faithful to its teachings. Islam traditionally accorded tolerance to "the People of the Book"-- Christians and Jews-- whose scriptures contained many of the same concepts and characters. It was the Muslims who preserved thousands of ancient texts that would have been lost forever during the so-called "Dark Ages"-- which makes the vicious denial of female literacy all the more appalling in a Muslim country. Of course, we as educators believe that education is a basic human right. Fortunately, some of the townspeople affected by these Taliban attacks on schools have so far refused to cower.

Are we really staying the course in our fight against known terrorists and avowed enemies? Afghan, NATO, and US forces are preparing to launch Operation Mountain Thrust into southern Afghanistan in response to the chaos there. We cannot sit back while our sworn enemies, who provided aid and training to the perpetrators of September 11, retake territory liberated by the blood of American servicemen and servicewomen, nor can we remain silent at yet another violation of human rights in Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the CARNIVAL!

The magnificent NYC Educator has done a bang-up job-- fireworks come to mind, even-- on the 74th Carnival of Education!

This carnival has an absolutely jam-packed midway! And NYC Educator does it all as his mild-mannered alter-ego! Go look!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Let's really honor Independence Day

Here’s a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. From the L.A. Times, here is an article entitled, “Have we forgotten civic education?” by Marshall Croddy, the director of programs at the Constitutional Rights Foundation:
In the early afternoon of July 4, 1776, church bells rang out in Philadelphia celebrating the official adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

Of course, the work of establishing the republic was not finished on that July day. Indeed, the nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" — to use Abraham Lincoln's words — will always be a work in progress.

The founders knew this too. By the summer of 1818, their generation was passing away. The survivors fretted about the future of their legacy and whether the republic would endure. They believed that each new generation must be enlightened by the principles of liberty and prepared to fight for the rights that had been won.

For all of the founders — and especially for the author of the Declaration of Independence — education was the key.

As early as 1779, Thomas Jefferson had written a bill in Virginia proposing a system of public education and arguing that history should be studied by all citizens. In 1817, he again proposed a system of free public education for the state and the establishment of a public university.

His attempts met with failure — except the last. The Virginia Legislature deemed universal public education too costly and unnecessary, but it did authorize the creation of a university and appointed a commission made up of 24 prominent Virginians, including Jefferson, to propose a location for it. The commission's members included two former presidents (Jefferson and James Madison) and then-President James Monroe. Jefferson spent the summer of 1818 promoting his vision for the university and for education in general.

To escape the sultry heat of the summer in central Virginia, the commission convened in the town of Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jefferson came prepared and quickly persuaded the commission to site the new university in Charlottesville, near his home in Monticello, where he could keep an eye on its development. Before the commission adjourned, Jefferson agreed to write up its findings. This was soon published as the "Rockfish Gap Report."

In the report, Jefferson again proposed a system of publicly funded elementary education that would ensure that all citizens knew their rights and their duties to community and country. He wanted students of higher education to be well-versed in political theory, have a strong knowledge of law and government and have the skills to reason and debate the issues. Among other things, he wanted quality history and civic education.

Jefferson's university was built, but the Virginia Legislature again ignored the recommendations for a universal education and curriculum. Only later was a system of public education put into place around the country.

So how is Jefferson's vision for a sound history and civic education doing today?

In California, we have a comprehensive, history-driven social studies framework and standards for all grade levels. Every high school student must take three years of social studies, including a U.S. government course, to graduate. On the surface, things look good.

But in truth, social studies is no longer a priority in schools and has not been for some time. Most recently, because of the national No Child Left Behind mandates and the school accountability system, language arts, math and science are emphasized. Resources for history/social science in terms of professional development, materials and even instructional time are scarce.

This is particularly true at low-scoring elementary schools serving underrepresented student populations, where instructional time for social studies has been greatly diminished. A cruel irony, really: those least empowered and most in need of the knowledge and skills of effective citizenship and advocacy are the least likely to be exposed to them.

Recent studies demonstrate that our nation and state are paying a price for this neglect. The California Survey of Civic Education conducted last year demonstrated that despite taking a course in U.S. government in the 12th grade, graduating seniors' knowledge of the structures and functions of government and of current political issues is very weak. Students averaged only a little over 60% correct on a test of their civics content knowledge, a low "D" on typical grading scales.

The survey also revealed that today's graduates are not inclined toward participatory citizenship. Less than half of high school seniors surveyed believed that "being actively involved in state and local issues is my responsibility."

Given these findings, it should be no surprise that young people's trust in government is appallingly low. Only 33% of high school seniors said they trusted "the people in government to do what is right for the country," and only 28% agreed with the statement: "I think that people in government care about what people like me and my family need."

It is difficult to fault young people for these views and attitudes, and, in truth, a survey administered to adults might well bear similar results. Given the daily fare of political scandal, partisan nastiness and negative campaigning, why would young people be inclined to trust in government or become politically engaged?

Studies such as the California Survey have brought to light the need for a renewal of civic education in our nation's schools. These days, there are groups — such as the Alliance for Representative Democracy and the Civic Mission of Schools — working in every state to improve civic education and preserve the social studies.

As you enjoy your Fourth of July activities, take a moment to reflect on Jefferson's summer long ago in Rockfish Gap. Then do what you can do make the founders' hopes a reality.

Mr. Croddy makes an excellent point. People do not just BECOME good citizens. In this day especially, when the most prolix voices in the political arena resound with either vapidity or hatefulness, when public and political discourse admits no disagreement, when those who claim to be compassionate often hector, attack, and vilify anyone who differs from them, when the freedoms enshrined in our beloved Constitution are literally under attack, when political campaigns are held in thrall to the highest bidders masquerading as caretakers of the public interest, we must ensure that all citizens feel that there is a burden we all must bear, and bear gladly, for the freedom we enjoy each and every day we breathe in the air of America.

That price begins with the sometimes wearying business of being informed about the issues of the day, and working to make the voice of the citizenry heard over the sound and the fury of the talking heads.

We are all eager to talk about freedoms. Freedom is not even half of the equation. It is time to rise to the responsibilities we also share as citizens of this wonderful country. These responsibilities include being informed participants in the political process. It involves truly embracing a spirit of self-sacrifice as embodied by our founding fathers, who offered up the lives and their sacred honor in defense of an ideal. We must demand that our country and its leaders live up to the ideals of freedom and liberty we have glorified since our earliest days. Nothing is more horrifying to me, especially as a teacher, than to hear someone claim they are too busy to pay attention to the political issues facing this country, or that they are too busy to vote.

At the very least, we must all understand the consequences of ignorance, and actively engage in fighting this threat to our body politic. An informed populace is an engaged populace.

Happy Independence Day!

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